You studied hard and long for your law degree and got called to the bar! You are now a legal professional and while you have to repay those education loans, the Catch22 you face is that you have to step into that partnership firm but they are asking that you prove yourself to be a junior partner or come in as an assistant. You cannot get that junior partner status unless you fight your first few cases, win a couple and go down fighting on the others. So you decided to strike out on your own.
You cannot setup a successful self owned firm unless you have clients and you cannot have clients when people around don't know your skills or reputation from a few medium to high profile cases (or have contacts that are perpetually in trouble with the law). If you have now survived the first few years in the profession, know a fair number of people, have a good reputation and charge enough to move into your own place, the next step is to be able to optimize costs, build revenue streams without causing angst to your trusting clientele and have some specialization that leads to your competitive advantage over the law firm next door.
As anyone working in the legal profession will know, competitive edge is gained by commoditising some of the processes that would otherwise eat into a fee earning time. Low hanging fruit in such cases, emerges in the form of document management. Successfully managing document management processes can, in some cases, make the difference between a new firm's success or failure, yet many continue to get it wrong. We examine the mistakes law firms can make in this area and how they can get it right, the first time, every time.
The legal profession began to use paper to record legal information such as wills, deeds, indentures, etc. Lawyers would then take the paper to a central repository such as a court, and "file" the document with the court. Thus insuring its preservation, authenticity and legitimacy.
Lawyers have come to revere paper documents. The older the paper is, the better. The more wax seals and ribbons that adorn it, the greater respect it is accorded. Walk into the conference rooms and reception areas of many firms, and you will find framed examples of really old handwritten paper (your law degree for example?). Lawyers will almost speak in hushed tones when discussing "the original" of a document. The legal profession has been steeped long and hard in the paper tradition. Law school instilled in us the idea that we can't even begin to talk about a writing without having a copy of it in our hands. Lawyers cannot even talk about a matter or a decision, until they can see it and touch it.
Enter the photocopier! The ability to quickly reproduce paper added fuel to the raging fire. Now, not only could lawyers have the original paper, but they could make lots and lots of copies of it. Paper documents began to quickly multiply in a firm. More and more room was required to store it all. More and more resources to file it, and keep track of it, not to mention trying to retrieve it later.
But it was the introduction of the computer that has really driven the quadrupling of paper in our offices. Now, we can produce original paper faster & cheaper than ever before. And we can reuse older electronic drafts to produce newer documents with just a few edits (templates). More paper, faster, cheaper, more, faster. Now, fax it to others, receive theirs via return fax. Add to this, e-mail as an attachment. Faster, faster, more, more. We are now drowning in the paper. We can't keep track of all of it. There's just too much. You feel overwhelmed by it all. The bad news is that this information overload phenomena shows no signs of abating.
Effective workflow management is a crucial step towards driving time efficiency in a law firm, and establishing a repeatable workflow process can increase productivity and ultimately reduce the costs associated with managing the litany of materials that every case generates. There are now a range of powerful scan-to-mail and scan-to-file programmes available, allowing employees to quickly and easily store all practice notes on a server, and convert scanned documents into a searchable and editable format for improved archiving, document retrieval, and productivity. The time savings of this approach can be phenomenal, driving significant efficiencies when it comes to the flow and management of documents.
We mentioned in an earlier blog post, the way in which most big firms tend to have the perception that they charge the big bucks. Much of it is from the fact that they have so many clients that they really cannot keep track of the costs incurred for each client. They just lump everything together and charge everyone a "standard fee" for everything, regardless if they did that bit of printing/copying for you or not. As a new lawyer or firm, you cannot have your clients perceive your services, the same as that big firm down the street.
The key to effectively doing this is implementing document management software. Such DMS software can allow the volume of print, copy and scan jobs to be seamlessly tracked across an entire office keeping costs consistent, as well as calculating a cost on the volume of print, copy and scan work per client, allowing for accurate charging via an itemized billing process. This works by administrators setting "rules" for printing documents, for example, large documents can be automatically printed in duplex and certain pages can be printed in mono, rather than in full colour, where needed.
To help further streamline costs and improve flexibility, many firms are also looking to total volume plan print solutions, meaning they are charged on a cost-per-copy basis rather than on a bundled overall price for service.
Our earlier blog post showed how the legal firms carry a surprisingly lax attitude towards security, with nearly half of law firms (45%) admitting to taking no measures towards protecting the data stored on their print devices. The implications of this are serious, especially when you consider the proposed new EU regulations for data protection (GDPR) that could see any company that holds personal information fined 2% of their annual turnover if caught breaking the guidelines!!
From our experience, while hacking can be an issue, it's often more internal stakeholders causing security breaches, for example, someone printing out sensitive documents, forgetting about them and then leaving them on the printer. This is where Secure Print technology from Xerox helps drive security, where each print job has to be authorized at the device before it can be claimed. This also has the benefit of significant cost savings when it comes to toner and paper. Similarly, many don't realize that multi-functional print devices store anything scanned or printed on them on an internal hard disk, and subsequently fail to delete this when selling or throwing away the device. A solution to this is the AES 256 encrypted hard disks on all Xerox scanning and print devices.
While talk of the paperless office has been around longer than I can remember, let's be honest, in the legal sector, this is never going to happen. However, there are still benefits to be made from an overall reduction in the volumes of print throughout a firm, not only from a cost perspective, but from a security and workflow perspective.
In fact, with the right solutions in place, it is possible for firms to save up to 30% on paper costs and print/copy charges, with a similar reduction in man-hours possible. The challenge therefore is not to aim to have the "paperless office", but to optimize your current setup so paper and digital documents work together in an efficient, cost-effective way.
There are a range of law-specific software solutions, such as intelligent print retrieval solutions, which help improve document security and minimize print waste. One of the main functions of this type of software is the creation of a pull-print (Secure Print) environment, meaning each print job has to be authorized at the device, reducing the potential for sensitive documents to be forgotten about and left on the printer, and the ability to print securely to shared workgroup devices. These systems often have 'anytime anywhere' mobility features so a lawyer can print straight from their mobile device without having to boot up their PC and waste valuable time.
It's also important for people to critically appraise the way they use print, for example, asking themselves ' do I need to print or can I scan instead' or alternatively, only printing documents when and where they are required. Solutions such as Airprint technology can help drive this flexibility, enabling staff to print directly to networked devices using tablets or smartphones, wherever they are.
Despite the many and varied benefits of a new document infrastructure, one the biggest challenges can be understanding this new way of working, and essentially unlearning your established "print everything" behaviour. After all, you spent significant time at university learning hard copy was King!
Central to this new workflow is an understanding of the crucial role played by Multi-Functional-Devices (MFDs) as opposed to a traditional desktop printer. MFDs are increasingly taking a central role when it comes to print and document management within law firms, helping streamline costs and improve time efficiencies at all levels. However, persuading a busy Paralegal that they no longer have access to a desktop printer, or convincing them that that they have to re-learn a document management system can be a huge challenge, especially when the move is perceived as disruptive to the company status quo, or worse still, a 'demotion' in responsibility or privilege.
A starting point could be to clearly, concisely and effectively document the bigger managed document services picture, whether it's about saving money, improving efficiency and workflow, or operating in a greener capacity. Education from a technical perspective is also important. You might be cynical about new technology, perceiving it simply as something else to learn in an already busy working week. However, with Xerox's anytime, anywhere training programme that focuses in particular on the positive results and benefits of the solution, we can mitigate this issue too.
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